Upper School Chemistry Students Discuss Illegal Mining

John Dau, Collegiate School’s Global Scholar-in-Residence, recently visited 9th Graders in Leigh Thompson’s and Susan Fourness-Ewell's chemistry classes to share first-hand experience with the misuse of important mineral resources and the negative impact the mining industry has on young people, the working class and communities in multiple regions in Africa.
Mr. Dau explained that when the act of mining is a safety risk to the public and workers and mostly benefits officials and government, it is considered illegal mining.

Students were encouraged to be aware of how minerals such as cobalt provide power for the lithium batteries commonly found in mobile devices and electric cars. According to Science X, a mobile phone contains over a third of the elements in the periodic table.

“We want to be sure students have a complete picture of what owning a device that retains power could mean,” Mr. Dau said, “because the illegal use of minerals in these products can have a negative impact on the lives of many people — through child labor, unsafe work environments and exposure to toxic chemicals.”

Students wondered which mined natural resource has been the most damaging to Mr. Dau’s native South Sudan — oil, gold or cobalt?

“It’s undoubtedly oil,” Mr. Dau stated, based on his experience providing medical aid to the people of South Sudan. “The mining of oil introduced disease to South Sudanese people that had not existed before.”

The discussion shed light on the deep impact corruption and overconsumption have on countries balancing development, growth and work opportunities for their populations.